The Monster That Lee Atwater and Karl Rove Made

Bad Hair, Republican Party

Frank Luntz got some Trump supporters together for a focus group. I believe this is what’s called a “cult of personality.”

Many sounded like relations of an ill patient, furious that all the previous doctors have botched a test or fumbled the scalpel. To them, Trump actually is the real-deal fixer-upper, and he is going to make America great again.

“We know his goal is to make America great again,” a woman said. “It’s on his hat. And we see it every time it’s on TV. Everything that he’s doing, there’s no doubt why he’s doing it: it’s to make America great again.”

The focus group watched taped instances on a television of Trump’s apparent misogyny, political flip flops and awe-inspiring braggadocio. They watched the Donald say Rosie O’Donnell has a “fat, ugly face.” They saw that Trump once supported a single-payer health system, and they heard him say, “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created.” But the group—which included 23 white people, 3 African-Americans and three Hispanics and consisted of a plurality of college-educated, financially comfortably Donald devotees—was undeterred.

At the end of the session, the vast majority said they liked Trump more than when they walked in.

“You guys understand how significant this is?” Luntz asked the press breathlessly when he came back into the room behind the glass. “This is real. I’m having trouble processing it. Like, my legs are shaking.”

It’s easy to psychoanalyze this crew and call them authoritarians, but it’s also the case that they’re really disgusted with other Republicans.

Much of Trump’s support in the room seemed to stem from a weakness in the Republican party. The 2014 midterms did not usher in the conservative renaissance Republicans expected. Obamacare has still not been repealed, Congress is looking less likely to override a veto on the Iran deal, and there are still 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

The group of 29 went around the room, each supplying a single adjective for the legislative body that let them down after the 2014 elections. Congress “does nothing.” It’s “too old.” “Useless.” “Lame.” “Inept.” “Wrong party.” “Cocktail party.” “Gridlock.” “Costly.” “Sold out.” “Sucks.” “Douchebags.”

Then, the group did the same for Trump. This time: “Tough.” “Businessman.” “Great.” “Successful.” “Not afraid.” “Leader.” “Has guts.” “Charismatic.” “A true American.” “Kicks ass and takes names.”

And again, we can assume this crew is not exactly cracking the IQ ceiling. But lo … Josh Marshall tells us it is possible that Trump really could end up with the Republican nomination. With such a divided field, just 25 to 30 percent of the primary vote could get Trump into the general election.



Social Issues

You might have heard about the juvenile frat boys who were disciplined by Old Dominion University for this:

Freshman women at Old Dominion University were given a very special welcome last week when they arrived on campus: Large banners that read “Rowdy and fun/Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off,” and “Go ahead and drop off mom too.” Photos of the helpful offers to fornicate with women across multiple generations in the university community have since gone viral.

The banners were widely condemned by the university and other students, and the fraternity has been suspended pending further investigation. Note that it’s possible the fraternity itself wasn’t behind this and that the perps were just some stupid little boys who thought they were being clever.

My first reaction was to feel vindicated in my long-standing view that most young men ought to spend a couple of years keeping silence in a monastery somewhere before they’re allowed out into the world — I’m not picky about what sort of monastery, mind you. But apparently some on the Right think we’re making a big deal about nothing.

Hit and Run — It was protected speech and not really that offensive.

Comment at Daily Caller — “Good Lord, will people please get the sticks out of their behinds and find their sense of humor again! Yes, it’s not right, yes, it’s borderline sick, but still darkly funny, and the more people who thumb their noses at the PC police, the better.”

Comment at Fox News — “When you see the way FEMALE students behave on Spring break, especially in florida, Arizona or Mexico,  to claim that one female student “even considered going back home” is the joke of the day.

PJ Tattler — Reaction is just over-the-top hysteria. “You have to be out of your mind to believe that the banner-hangers had sexual assault or dating violence in mind when they put them up.

Comment at PJ Tattler — “I am so glad our sons are out of college. Young males can’t do anything today without the ridiculous females crying they are “hurt”.

I assume that last commenter doesn’t have daughters. Also there was a lot of nostalgia for “Animal House.”

Granted, stuff like this happened when I was in college (1969-1973) and was shrugged off. Boys will be boys, you know. But here are a couple of paragraphs from Rethinking Religion

Also, as Hannah Arendt observed of Adolf Eichmann, sometimes “evil” people are those who mirror the values of their peers and culture, without self-reflection or thought of consequence. When we read about teenage boys brutalizing a girl and bragging about it on Twitter, for example, that’s what we’re seeing. And when other people try to cover up or trivialize the brutality, or blame the victim, that’s what we’re seeing. Because such acts are an expression of social and cultural values, and approved by peers, they don’t feel evil to those committing them.

And later, when the brutality has been exposed to the light of day, we want so very much to believe that the perpetrators are somehow abnormal, or monsters, or possessed of some aberrant quality that caused them to be brutal. But most of the time, in truth, there is nothing measurably abnormal about them at all. That’s why cultural values — not just the ones we pay lip service to, but the ones we wink at — have real-world consequences, also.

The fact is, whether we admit to it or not, popular culture still thinks it’s cool to objectify and sexually exploit women, and as long as that’s true there will always be soft-headed young men who will act out that behavior. And a few of those young men will end up with rape convictions, and then people will wring their hands and either wonder how he could have been such a monster, or isn’t it a shame his life is being ruined. And I’m proposing that the university is absolutely right for not winking at this stuff any more. And this is not just for the sake of the young women on campus, but also for the sake of young men — and also young women — who don’t have the sense God gave eggplant.

Whether there is or is not a rape crisis on campus, any more than there was when I was on campus, is a matter to argue over. However, it’s not outrageous or new for universities to have codes for how students should behave. Letting it be known that this behavior is not acceptable is a step in the right direction. And then maybe, eventually, as a culture we’ll stop winking.


Thrill Ride

Obama Administration

One of the nice things about being a poor old lady is that stock market free falls don’t get me excited. I hope none of you are too inconvenienced, however. I suspect some vacation plans were canceled today.

There’s speculation that Joe Biden will announce his candidacy and that Liz Warren has agreed to run on the ticket with him. This is not known for certain, mind you. If true, however, this would certainly drop a bomb into the Dem nomination campaigns.

Die-hard non-genius Scott Walker wants President Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the White House next month. Apparently Walker thinks China deliberately tanked its own economy to crash the U.S. stock market.

U.S. officials have said the summit will offer a chance for the Obama to raise concerns with Xi, while also making progress on other areas of cooperation such as combating climate change. China is also among the nations involved with the United States on a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

But Walker said that Obama should cancel the visit because “there’s serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama.”

Yes, dimwit, there is serious work to be done, which is why the grown ups will get together and discuss it. You can stay home and play with your plastic Holsteins, or whatever you do.


Why We’re Screwed, Part Infinity

Democratic Party

I’ve been thinking about the Democratic presidential candidates and how it is we ended up with such a weak field. My impression is that in the past few years Dem party elites and the bigger contributors simply assumed it was Hillary Clinton’s turn, and that she was the strongest candidate who could take the White House. So few other Dems thought about running.

And now that assumption is not looking so good. Although she’s still a clear front runner, polls show support for her is falling. And the constant drumbeats about the email issue, even though I’ve yet to see a credible allegation she did anything illegal, could be hurting her. Some people on the Dem side are griping she’s not handling the email thing well. There are headlines about her campaign imploding.

I don’t think her campaign has imploded yet, but what if it did? This is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket, Dems.

Joe Biden may jump in, and while he wouldn’t be my first choice, I think he’s a better campaigner and debater than people remember. Especially compared to whatever loony tune the Republicans eventually shove into the nomination, IMO Biden might strike most voters as a safe alternative.

However, given the realities of modern presidential campaigns, if Biden jumped in now he’d be millions of dollars and many months behind the rest of the field. That’s another argument for campaign finance reform, IMO. The current system forces everyone to commit too early, unable to switch gears if the one and only candidate stumbles.

As much as I love Bernie Sanders, asking America to vote for a “socialist” Jew for President is still too much of a gamble, IMO. I wish things were otherwise. Although in a sane world, considering the Republican field, the Dems ought to be able to elect a pastrami sandwich in 2016. Also, Martin O’Malley doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although that could change once there are debates.

But, ultimately, if the Dems blow the 2016 election it’s going to be the fault of party leaders who didn’t encourage some healthy competition in the nomination process.

For another perspective on why the Dems can’t get their act together, see Charles Pierce.


Stuff to Read

Obama Administration

An interview with historian Eric Foner, “People Know Next to Nothing About Reconstruction.”

I run into new college graduates who still think of Reconstruction as the time when grifter carpetbaggers went South and stole money from honest, God-fearing (and white) plantation owners. Or, it was the time the federal government sent federal troops to harass honest, God-fearing (and white) southerners and take away their vote and put illiterate former slaves into office, to everyone’s ruination. And the point of Reconstruction was to punish the South for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It’s still the Birth of a Nation / Gone With the Wind view.

Which is entirely wrong. And a lot of heads would explode if the truth were known.

Josh Marshall, “BREAKING: Nuclear Stuff Really Complicated.”

This is short, and a must-read. People who actually understand nuclear stuff and the Iran Deal say it’s as good and as tight as it needs to be. But that hasn’t stopped politicians (including Chuck Schumer) of feeding misinformation to the public, and so far news media aren’t doing any better.

The Right-Wing Hate Machine. Twitchy and the art of herding rage at selected targets.

Debt Is Good. Rand Paul says something stupid. Professor Krugman ridicules him.

One more: Planned Parenthood means fewer abortions.


The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis, Revisited

American History, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

On the Right the Shiny Object de la semaine, if not du jour, is birthright citizenship. This is the legal right to citizenship of all babies born in the U.S. regardless of the status of their parents. From time to time conservatives get whipped up into a Nativist frenzy and demand that birthright citizenship be ended, and now is one of those times.

It’s widely believed that birthright citizenship is established by the 14th Amendment, and that it would take a constitutional amendment to change it. But many on the Right deny this. They don’t think the 14th says what it says, and they think birthright citizenship could be ended through an act of Congress. For example, Edward J. Erler wrote in National Review,

A correct understanding of the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment and legislation passed by Congress in the late 19th century and in 1923 extending citizenship to American Indians provide ample proof that Congress has constitutional power to define who is within the “jurisdiction of the United States” and therefore eligible for citizenship. Simple legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president would be constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

I don’t have time to write a long post explaining why Erler is wrong. Fortunately, I already wrote that post, more than five years ago. In the earlier post (The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis) I respond to a George Will column that made nearly identical arguments to Erler’s. And those arguments are taken pretty much wholesale from the minority opinion in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) . The detail that Will and Erler both hope nobody notices is that the majority opinion in Wong Kim Ark disagreed.

Erler also tries to argue that Wong Kim Ark only applies to children born of legal aliens, but I read the Wong Kim Ark opinion, and that’s not apparent to me. For one thing, I’m not sure “illegal aliens” was conceptualized then as we conceptualize it now. In any event, Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the U.S. to Chinese laborer parents who were considered “subjects of the Emperor,” at a time when Chinese laborers were strictly excluded from the U.S.  But Wong Kim Ark claimed citizenship by right of birth, and the Court agreed with him.

So here’s most of the earlier Anchor Baby post, and you can substitute “Erler” for “Will” if you like.

Now, most legal experts say that because of the 14th Amendment, Congress does not have the power to deny citizenship to so-called “anchor babies.” Doing this would require a constitutional amendment. But righties are arguing no, because the 14th Amendment doesn’t say what it says. This argument was presented by none other than George Will a few days ago, and it is a tortured argument, indeed. But when I read Will’s column I didn’t have the time to research what he was saying to see if it could hold mayonnaise, never mind water.

But lo, yesterday, while researching something else entirely, I ran into a discussion of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) (see also Wikipedia discussion of Wong). Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the United States of ethnic Chinese parents. At the time, the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. You probably remember that this barred anyone of the Chinese “race” from entering the U.S., and it denied citizenship to ethnic Chinese people already in the U.S. Wong challenged this law, and in a 6-2 decision the Supreme Court agreed with Wong, and said he was a citizen of the United States by virtue of being born here. And it seems to me there’s a made-for-television movie script in there somewhere.

Anyway, as I read about the Wong decision I realized that the dissenting argument in the Wong case is exactly the same argument being made today by Will and the Republican lawmakers.

The dissent was based on an interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Will and the two SCOTUS dissenters (John Harlan and Melville Fuller) say this phrase means “and not subject to any foreign power.” In their dissent of Wong, Harlan and Fuller point out that native Americans were (at the time) not citizens of the U.S. because the Civil Rights Act of 1866 had given citizenship to “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.”

This act became law just two months before the 14th Amendment was proposed. So, the argument is, this wording gives us insight into where lawmakers’ heads were at the time. And thus, if the parents are subjects of a foreign power, then their baby born in the U.S. is not eligible for citizenship. This was the dissenting opinion in Wong in 1898, and Will repeated this same argument in his Washington Post column. Will doesn’t bother discussing that pesky Wong majority opinion, however.

Will argues further,

What was this [the jurisdiction phrase] intended or understood to mean by those who wrote it in 1866 and ratified it in 1868? The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.

As far as I know, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt to render any sort of immigration illegal, and it didn’t become law until 1882. Congress had passed an earlier version of the exclusion act in 1878, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. But the Wong majority decision says plainly that an act of Congress making Chinese immigration illegal, and denying citizenship status to ethnic Chinese, did not override the clear language of the 14th Amendment.

So, whether Will and the Republican lawmakers like it or not, SCOTUS already nixed their argument.

The majority opinion in Wong is based partly on English common law, which said that babies born in England are English, with the exception of the children of diplomats and children born to hostile forces occupying English territory.

In addition, at the time native American tribes were not considered subject to U.S. jurisdiction and were therefore not citizens. Another case decided in 1884 (Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94) had declared that a native American who left his tribe and went to live in a white community didn’t automatically get citizenship, although he could be considered a citizen if he went through whatever naturalization process existed at the time and paid taxes.

Will leans heavily on the example of non-citizen native Americans to argue that the 14th Amendment was not intended to confer citizenship to babies of foreigners who happened to be in the U.S. at the time. But the Elk decision (which Will doesn’t mention, either) did not consider Indian tribes to be foreign states. A tribe was an alien political entity which Congress dealt with through treaties, but not the same thing as a foreign nation.

So, it seems to me the Wong decision — the majority opinion, anyway — more closely speaks to the circumstance of babies born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants than does the Elk decision. And I think I just blew by nerd blogging quotient for the day.

Update: Read more about Wong Kim Ark in “The Progeny of Citizen Wong.”

And thank goodness for archives.


Katrina Plus Ten


How time flies. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, here are some developments I’m sure we all could have predicted ten years ago.

1. Hundreds of crooks and grifters soaked up Katrina relief money. Not all of it, but a lot of it.

2. Whites got a lot more help from relief money than blacks. Inequality really is built into the system. See also Why New Orleans’s Black Residents Are Still Underwater After Katrina.

3. Since so many schools were damaged in the storm, the for-profit school grifters moved in and took over the school system. Since then there’s been all kinds of  happy talk about how well this is going, along with the occasional story about New Orleans kids being taught that cave men lived alongside dinosaurs. A New Orleans mother and educator complains that what New Orleans really got was colonialism, not reform.


View From Nowhere

News Media, Republican Party

Timothy Egan has a column up at the NY Times comparing the candidates to junk food. Here’s just a bit:

More empty calories: Scott Walker, the governor whose foreign policy experience is limited to breakfast at the old International House of Pancakes, threatens to start at least two wars upon taking office. He promises to use military action if necessary to coax Iran into doing what he wants it to do. He also wants to pick a fight with Russia, sending weapons to Ukraine and erecting a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Walker’s home state of Wisconsin ranks 35th in private sector job creation. But New Jersey is worse, suffering nine credit downgrades and ranking near the bottom in job growth. Even the governor of the state, Chris Christie, would not rise to Jersey’s defense after fellow candidates described Atlantic City as something akin to Baghdad on a hangover.

Those governors want to apply their ruinous models to the rest of the country. In the same vein, a failed former chief executive officer, Carly Fiorina, having fired 30,000 employees and driven her company’s stock price into the ground, feels more qualified than ever to be president. She’s never held elective office and rarely voted while living in California. A junk comeback.

But what about the Dems? All the Dem candidates, like them or not, are offering real policy proposals for real problems. But Egan — and I like Egan — can’t bring himself to step out of the View From Nowhere and declare that dictates we must see both sides as just as bad.

Finally, to the Democrats. A 73-year-old socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is getting lots of attention because Hillary Clinton’s email story is boring, by Clinton scandal standards. When a noisy intruder, an African-American, jumped to the podium and refused to let Sanders speak, it was widely interpreted as a big problem for the candidate and race relations.

Wrong. The censor with the mouth was, it turns out, a self-described “extremist Christian,” from a family that once backed Sarah Palin. Some members of Black Lives Matter distanced themselves from her.

How did this stunt become a thing among the national press corps? Junk media. Sadly, the sugar high goes two ways.

Yes, if you take the time to parse this he’s admitting that the problem is with media reporting, not Dem candidates, but the quick impression is that the Dem candidates don’t have anything to offer either. Of the two front-runners, one is just an old socialist and the other is bogged down in a boring email scandal.


These Are the Jokes, Folks


Actual headline at Christian Science Monitor: Is Donald Trump the Next Ronald Reagan?

In the “you can’t make this up” department: Jim Bob Duggar Wants To Counsel Sexual Abuse Victims, Pitches New Reality Show

In the “karma’s a bitch” department: Arizona ‘Patriot’ Militia Busted By Feds In Plot To Steal Drugs From Bogus Cartel

Here’s the punch line: Jeb! is now arguing that his brother’s Iraq mission was accomplished.


More Lives That Matter

Health Care, Women's Issues

The United States has among the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the developed world. Worse, according to official statistics, the rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. has shot up in recent years, even as the rate is going down just about everywhere else

(Maternal mortality rate refers to the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth per 100,000 pregnancies/births. Infant mortality rate refers to the number of infants per 1,000 births who die between birth and their first birthday.)

Maternal mortality has jumped from 7.2 in 1987 to 18.5 in 2013; I understand the U.S. is roughly tied with Iran and Hungary in the maternal mortality department. And keep in mind that those numbers are averages; some states are not that bad, and some are worse.

However, a recent article in Scientific American argues that the maternal mortality rate really isn’t going up; it’s always been that bad, and we just didn’t know it.

Until relatively recently most states relied on a death certificate form that was created in 1989. A newer version of the form, released in 2003, added a dedicated question asking whether the person who died was currently or recently pregnant—effectively creating a flag for capturing maternal mortality. Specifically, this recently introduced question asks if the woman was pregnant within the past year, at the time of death or within 42 days of death.

The addition of this question means that the apparent increase in maternal mortality in the U.S. “is almost certainly not a real increase. It’s better detection from the new certificates,” says Robert Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “The numbers are going up but it’s most likely not because women are more likely to die,” he contends.

In other words, maybe the problem isn’t getting worse; it’s just that the way we used to collect data camouflaged how bad things were before. That’s so … not a relief. However, other researchers quoted in the same article think there is an increase that can’t be entirely accounted for by the change in data collection.


One aspect of maternal mortality that has not changed over the years is the extent to which it varies by race. The risk of maternal mortality has remained about three to four times higher among black women than white women during the past six decades. Since 1999 maternal mortality has climbed among both black and white women—potentially due to those changes in death certificates and also how deaths are now coded in the U.S. using the ICD-10. Yet even with the cross-race increases in deaths related to pregnancy, in 2007 the maternal mortality rate for black women was still nearly three times higher than the rate for white women.

Researchers have shown that black women are not inherently more likely to have underlying pregnancy complications. Indeed, one national study that looked at five major common causes of maternal death and injury that collectively account for more than a quarter of all pregnancy-related deaths found that black women did not have a significantly higher prevalence than white women of those conditions—preeclampsia, eclampsia, obstetric hemorrhage, placental abruption and placenta previa. Yet black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women with the same complication.

Increased poverty and stress are an obvious reason why black mothers are at increased risk, IMO, but the medical science guys who look at this stuff aren’t persuaded that’s the entire story.

Whatever the cause, the data tell us that a lot of women die in the U.S. who would have lived had they gone through pregnancy and childbirth in any of about 50 other countries, including Estonia and Qatar. And a disproportionate number of those women are African American, and nobody knows why.

There are huge differences from state to state, for that matter. Maine has a maternal mortality rate of 1.2, according to data aggregated from the Center for Disease Control. Michigan has a rate of 21.0. The District of Columbia is even worse — 38.2. We’re in Third World territory with that number.

Similarly, the United States lags behind most of the developed world in infant mortality, and a disproportionate number of those infants also are African American. Conservatives for years have dismissed the data with claims that these are mere reporting anomalies. If an extremely premature infant dies immediately after birth, for example, it’s usually counted in the infant mortality data in the U.S. but would not be counted as such in some other countries.

An article in the Washington Post from September, 2014 blows that argument out of the water

Despite healthcare spending levels that are significantly higher than any other country in the world, a baby born in the U.S. is less likely to see his first birthday than one born in Hungary, Poland or Slovakia. Or in Belarus. Or in Cuba, for that matter. …

… One factor, according to the paper: “Extremely preterm births recorded in some places may be considered a miscarriage or still birth in other countries. Since survival before 22 weeks or under 500 grams is very rare, categorizing these births as live births will inflate reported infant mortality rates (which are reported as a share of live births).”

Oster and her colleagues found that this reporting difference accounts for up to 40 percent of the U.S. infant mortality disadvantage relative to Austria and Finland. This is somewhat heartening.

But what about that other 60 percent?

“Most striking,” they write, “the US has similar neonatal mortality but a substantial disadvantage in postneonatal mortality” compared to Austria and Finland. In other words, mortality rates among infants in their first days and weeks of life are similar across all three countries. But as infants get older, a mortality gap opens between the U.S. and the other countries, and widens considerably.

See the chart in the article. We’re not losing newborns as much as we are losing infants from one to 12 months old, and the gap widens as the infants get older. It appears many babies are dying in the U.S. who would have lived if they’d been born in Finland. And the biggest factor seems to be income; in the U.S., babies born into poor families die a lot more often than babies born into wealthy families. There also are big discrepancies from one state to another.

The U.S. rate of 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births masks considerable state-level variation. If Alabama were a country, its rate of 8.7 infant deaths per 1,000 would place it slightly behind Lebanon in the world rankings. Mississippi, with its 9.6 deaths, would be somewhere between Botswana and Bahrain.

Needless to say, a disproportionate number of those poor families are African American. I couldn’t find raw numbers, so I don’t know how many African American women and babies die what must be preventable deaths in the U.S. every year. Maybe someone else can find that number. I don’t know how many White, Native American, Asian American and Latina women and their babies die, either. In 2013 about 800 women of all races died of complications of pregnancy and childbirth in the U.S., and if you have the data and can do math better than I can perhaps you can figure it out. I found no raw numbers of babies who die before their first birthday, just the rates.

The bottom line, though, is that access to health care, including reproductive health care, is a life and death issue for American women. And our lack of attention to this problem is a national disgrace. Yet instead of addressing it we’ve been manipulated into a phony controversy about Planned Parenthood. Really disgusting.

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